John Tilbury – For Tomasz SikorskiOctober 19, 2012
I’ll be honest, before purchasing this release I had not heard of the Polish composer Tomasz Sikorski, Scouring the internet for information on him reveals little more beyond a lengthy list of works covering orchestral, chamber, electronic/tape and solo instrumental settings and that he spent considerable time in Paris and the USA before returning to his home city of Warsaw where died in 1988 at the far too young age of 49. Released recordings of his work seem thin on the ground as well. Judging by this new album of his piano music performed by John Tilbury however his work has a minimalist feel to it, consisting mainly of short semi-melodic, partly rhythmic sections repeated over and over with slight adjustments. The sensation is of a more urgent, driven Satie, or even in places a more systematically structured Philip Glass, but asides from the frequency and repetition of notes, there is a clear focus on the acoustic properties of the chosen instrument, in this case the piano, and the music feels like it has been written so as to celebrate the resonant properties of the instrument. The three pieces here touch on melody, but each involve a degree of attack and then reflective echo, little figures of notes that often begin with sudden keystrikes tailing off quickly as the little cluster of notes runs its course before being repeated. Perhaps even a sped up, more aggressively realised Feldman could be summoned up from this music, but ultimately comparisons don’t work, and Sikorski’s music feels quite different to much else, though in the case of this release the playing of John Tilbury is familiar in itself.
In the brief liner notes written by Tilbury he tells of how he and Sikorski both studied under Zbigniew Drzewiecki at the Warsaw Conservatory during the early sixties, and how for a while they became good friends before losing touch when Tilbury returned to the UK in 1965. This release then of three short pieces under ten minutes by the Pole; Autograph (1980), Rondo (1984) and Zertstreutes Hinausschauen (1971) clearly holds some emotional resonance for Tilbury as he reflects on the music of his deceased old friend, and he then adds a fourth track here, a thirteen minute long improvisation in Sikorski’s memory. The composed pieces here are each a nice listen, with the opening Autograph possibly the pick, as small flurries of melodic fragment are rotated, so as to create a vague sensation of verse and chorus, but the real joy of this music feels to be less about the actual notes and chords used but more the depth and volume of the way they are played, the deep resonance of the piano, with pedals depressed, something about the physicality of it. I have not heard any other music by Sikorski, but cannot help but feel that he tempers his composition so as to pull the best from the individual acoustic properties of each instrument he writes for. I am reminded a little of how Lachenmann writes to explore the possibilities of individual instruments, but rather than propose any form of extended technique here, Sikorski seems to adapt his music just to get the best of a piano played in its traditional manner. Perhaps John Tilbury then is as good a man to perform such works as anyone.
Tucked away at the end of the album however sits thirteen minutes of quite extraordinarily powerful, intense improvisation. The non-notated piece Tilbury has added to this album is amongst the best few minutes of such music you are likely to come across for a while. Ranging from the deep, booming depth charge strikes inside the piano that open the track, through violent plucks and strikes at the strings, combinations of high register notes and similarly deep groans and little, typically Tilburyesque little arpeggios, this is wonderful music. The improvisation is quite different to the rhythmic feel of Sikorski’s composed works, but there is still a deliberate move from Tilbury to seek out the resonant possibilities of the piano. One seemingly torturous section from the middle of the piece sees a sharp strike at the body of the instrument gradually die away slowly, followed by chattering, dry, key strokes interrupted by some kind of preparation that each also fade at their own pace. Its a solemn, deeply moving work that, when I first heard it while driving, forced me to pull over at the side of the road and start the track again. There aren’t nearly enough released recordings of John Tilbury improvising solo, but this is a wonderful example, clearly driven by the memory of an old friend, and the danger is, tucked away at the end of the album like this it could get overlooked. Do so at your peril. Stunning music.